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Human Rights in the Context of the Changing Global Order

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Thomas Hobbes argued that nature of conflict is embedded in the natural condition of mankind. On account of constant fear procured from this nature for the weaker sections of society, philosophers argued for creation of moral and legal obligations for protecting the interests of human beings. This followed the formulation of human rights in its modern sense. Though human rights are synonymous with every human civilization throughout the history, the nature of these rights were mostly in pursuance of the natural condition of conflict where it was directed in favour of one group over another. The current form of liberal world order based human rights regime was formed after the World War II and is the most influencing regime ever formed in the human history. There have been no other human rights system as widely accepted as the one we are living in. It is based on the principles of mutual respect, human dignity, equality and democratic values. In the bipolar world of the cold war era, human rights became part of an ideological struggle. The codification and monitoring of these rights benefitted from the power struggle between Soviet Union and the United States of America [US]. The human rights regime was at its peak after the fall of Berlin Wall. In the following unipolar era dominated by the US hegemony, the regime at times did suffer from backlashes but nothing was that serious to threaten the base of this regime at all. Now when the current world order itself is in retreat, the future of this human rights regime is under skepticism.

American hegemony is on a decline, particularly due to their own policies aided with the rise of regional players. The American-dominant world order is set to be replaced by a multi polar order, where numerous emerging states will have a share in the global power. These emerging states are mostly authoritarian or illiberal democracies having a poor record on human rights subject. The changing course of global power would adversely impact the current human rights regime. The change is inevitable but the degree of such change could be controlled since the international order is very deeply rooted in the current world order. It is where the role of emerging democracies and traditionalist powers become important to control the course of such change.

The changing global order

Stagnancy coupled with global order is a false concept often intermixed in the international relations. The end of every global order is inevitable and they expire in a prolonged deterioration rather than taking a sudden collapse. Ever since liberalism became the centre of the global order in the 1940s, it has been under constant threat from the actions of dominating state as well as non-state actors. This liberal order that was created in the aftermath of the Second World War produced immense benefits for the people across the planet. The years following this period brought unprecedented growths like prosperity and raise in standards of human rights. In particular, the human rights regime received a boost with the different newly formed human rights order centered on upholding the values of humanism. This order was centered on the principle of mutual respect of sovereignty and it survived the cold war and American hegemony and the challenges thereafter.

But the liberal world order is now deteriorating and the US is fast losing its superpower status that it gained post Soviet collapse. Experts argue that this breakdown of US power started with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the present administration policies which seem disinterested in leading the global order is the end point of US hegemony.[1] With this end, there are multiple aspects of world order that is possible and foreseeable. Some argue that the world order will remain unipolar with the classical power swift happening from one great power to another, others argue that the world order will return to pre-1992 bipolar phase while the most convincing argument being the multi polar world order where the global power could be concentrated in small pockets of numerous countries. With the rising economy and military powers, the regional powers will have a share in the concentrated global power in the upcoming order.

With the shift in the world order, the international institutions supporting the order will find it difficult to adapt to the new conditions. The older order was primarily supported by liberal democracies, now there is a constant shift of powers from these democracies to authoritarian and illiberal democratic countries. The liberal world order saw the rise of free countries by at least 36 percent which is now at a constant rate of decline.[2] The new world order is thus set to be dominated by countries with poor human rights record. With these set of countries dominating the world order in the coming times, the liberal order based human rights regime will suffer severe repercussions.

The human rights order of the current era

Global human rights came into play only after a long period of power shifts and brutal wars rather than peaceful international relations. Post World War II, the liberal order gave prominence to the United Nations which was seen as a standing global forum which would set uniform guidelines for attaining mutual trust and orchestrate domestic as well as external policies of a state. In the third General Assembly of the United Nations held in 1948, the Universal Deceleration of Human Rights [UDHR] was adopted which could be attributed as the principle document of the current human rights regime.[3] Article 28 of the UDHR emphasises on entitlement to a social and international order which upholds human dignity and liberty.[4] In the following years, numerous national and international human rights organisations were set up which ultimately established an international order based on the principles of Article 28.

The human rights order has been shaped by the actions of state as well as non-state actors. Under the state actors include the nature of states, the domestic laws and the geopolitical interests the state serve to the particular cause. For the non-state actors, there are two broad heads of human rights organisations, the intergovernmental organisations [IGOs] or the international non-governmental organisations [INGOs]. The IGOs are formed by treaties amongst several states. Upon ratification of the same, the states become legally bound by the objectives set out in the treaty. The INGOs on the other hand carry out support services along with pressurizing the states for attaining rights. In the past, INGOs like Amnesty International or Red Cross have been successful in influencing political processes including areas of high politics affecting national sovereignty and the actions of other key players. The human rights order thus created has established deep roots in the current world order.    

Challenges to human rights order in the multi polar world

Western countries played an extraordinarily large role as funders and conveners of human rights organisations, directly or indirectly shaping the mode of working of these organisations.[5] Several states have argued that the organisations have been shaped in such a way to best suit the dominance of the western countries. For instance, there have been criticisms of Responsibility to Protect doctrine which have been time and again usurped by the West to wage wars in other countries. The double standard invasions to bring peace to a region have not gone well with the advocates of human rights. Countries are losing confidence in the established institutions like never before. Many countries have either left or have showed their intentions to leave the International Criminal Court over alleged political bias. Other human rights institutions are also not free from these threats. The principles of democracy as enshrined under UDHR are not feasible in a world ruled by far right or authoritarian states. If the world powers are shifted from the west to the regional players then it is certain that these organisations in their current form would suffer a backlash. While traditional powers are unwilling to reform the institutions, the emerging states are becoming more assertive in the global politics in the same place. The formation of New Development Bank by BRICS countries show that if the emerging states are not better accommodated in the existing institutions, such as World Bank or UNSC, they will undermine those institutions by creating alternative ones.

The rise of populism

The issue of human rights disorder cannot be limited to non-western countries. In recent years, the rise of populism has resulted in deteriorating human rights accord in the western countries as well. Populism is a growing ideology and an anti-establishment movement which share suspicion and hostility towards the established institutions. Studies have indicated that populist governments have eroded individual rights and inflicted serious damage on democratic institutions.[6] In Europe for example, the increasing immigration from the Middle East and the need for preservation of cultural identity per se started the populist tide and now, the far right groups emerging from populism are expressing discontent with the established human rights laws. Several states are even passing protectionist laws aimed at curbing basic rights of refugees as enshrined in the Refugee Convention or the UDHR principles. The rise of populism has not only affected Europe but it has gone past the Atlantic to the US. The protectionist policies coupled with growing human rights abuse of the migrants shows the changing nature of administration to deal with human rights issues.[7] Though the abuse on several counts like Guatanamo Bay have been there in the US but the current administration is very vocal in carrying out these abuses and making it sound like a norm. The multi polar world order will continue to have considerable say of these western countries and they are ought to act as saviours of the established institutions but with the rise of far right groups here they are most likely pursue the protectionist policies and evade their responsibilities to act.

Populism have gone past all possible barriers to distant countries like Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil and other emerging powers. This is leading to swift transfer of liberal democracy to illiberal ones. For instance the Philippine government has initiated its war on drugs policy where thousands of extra judicial killings have taken place.[8] Brazil has also shown increasing numbers of extrajudicial killings.[9] Indonesia is also witnessing the rising tides of populism where the far right opposition is witnessing strongholds in different pockets of the country.[10] Unlike the west where populism is constrained by strongly established democratic institutions, in Asian countries these institutions are generally weak and populism could prove more dangerous to democracy. These countries are the important regional players who will have significant say in the new world order, the rising populist tide in these countries is thus worrisome for the established human rights order.

The rise of authoritarian states in the world order

The authoritarian states will have a dominant share in the rising multi polar world order. Countries like Turkey, China, North Korea, Russia etc and regional groups like African Union, Arab League and the like will have a considerable say in the world order. The human rights record of these countries range from poor to very poor. Of these countries, China is likely to have the most important share of the global power but its autocratic government sees human rights as existential threat to the state. The Chinese government has long pushed the current human rights order as an infringement of its sovereignty. Its recent episode with detaining of thousands of Muslims from Xinjiang region clearly shows the poor human rights accord it would provide for in its capacity.[11] The current human rights order will always have some kind of infringement on the national sovereignty thus one should not expect support of the authoritarian states in this regard. Further, there are certain provisions in the UDHR which are clearly in contraventions with the foundations of these states. For instance, Article 29 calls out for establishment of democratic societies which is not a feasible alternative under an authoritarian rule.[12]

The rise of these authoritarian states challenges the liberal order built around human rights, democracy and international justice. These states were always skeptical of human rights organisations and will abstain from progressive interpretations of human rights obligations.[13] The attitude of these states is going to make the current human rights regime ineffective per se given the dominance of these states in the current world order. Though one could argue that the current international order has very deep roots in the society and is not easily threatened by these changes, these authoritarian states even during the current regime have successfully crumbled upon the human rights in their own domestic spaces. With the shift in world order in their favour, they could extend their domestic policies to the international sphere and change the course of human rights in the world.

The decline of human rights order

Political scientist Samuel Huntington cited democracy and the subsequent human rights from it as the inevitable consequence of the assertion of US dominance. He said

Democracy is promoted, but not if it brings Islamic fundamentalists to power; non-proliferation is preached for Iran and Iraq, but not for Israel; free trade is the elixir of economic growth, but not for agriculture; human rights are an issue for China, but not with Saudi Arabia; aggression against oil-owning Kuwaitis is massively repulsed, but not against non-oil-owning Bosnians. Double standards in practice are the unavoidable price of universal standards of democracy.”[14]

Though human rights have provided immense benefits for people across the globe, the proponents of these rights have used these for ulterior motives. The controller of the world order will always look for creation of institutions in the way that best suits their goals of dominance. The authoritarian dominated order would curb the liberties by counting the shortcomings of democracy. Statements like the following by the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad could be used for supporting the restrictions on human rights

 “Authoritarian stability has enabled prosperity whereas democracy has brought chaos and increased misery. Should we enforce democracy on people who may not be able to handle it and destroy themselves?”[15]

The advocates for autocracy will undermine the human rights system for shaping up their rule and establishing long term powers in the process. The emerging authoritarian states have from time and again created deadlocks in the existing human rights system for resolving humanitarian conflicts. The deadlock created in the UNSC over Syrian Civil War by Russia and China is the most recent one. Estimated suggest that over half a million people died in this conflict but still a no-vote was given for intervention in Syria.[16] This was partly due to the misuse of humanitarian intervention in Libya by NATO troops earlier where the said intervention failed miserably. The reasons also ranged to Russian alliance to Syrian government which it sought to protect while the western countries launched an offensive against the government at the same time. This is a perfect example of inefficiency the human right order could turn into.   

The current international order has survived decades of violent wars and instability. But the stability was partly due to the fact that the US and its allies were able to maintain their hegemony. With this hegemony set to be broken, an unstable human rights order is just a matter of time. Owing to the protectionist policies, the upcoming major world powers would denounce these set of rights and will look forward to replace these with a new set of rules. The nature of these rules is easily foreseeable from the domestic policies that these countries have been serving in the past. It makes the next generation of human rights regime look bleak and cites our future to be on the verge of being in dystopia.

Conclusion

George Orwell in his famous novel 1984 quoted that “power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shape of your own choosing.” This quote is very relevant to the current scenario of the changing world order where the emerging powers will restrict the shape of human rights regime suitable for their own purposes. The new Orwellian world therefore would push us back decades and nullify the attempts that were done for creating this most effective human rights regime in the course of history. The human rights regime is under threat, particularly due to the actions of the parent countries of the regime and also due to the rise of emerging countries elsewhere. The traditionalist countries are showing little to no interest in upholding the values they created for protection of human rights. It is where the role of emerging states becomes crucial. The current human rights regime need to gain the active support of at least some of the emerging states, if they are to maintain significance in the coming decades of this century. Emerging democratic states like India and others could prove to be crucial in mediating between the diverging interests of the traditional powers and illiberal emerging states elsewhere. If the human rights order is to somehow survive in the changing world order, it would depend on how these emerging states are able to bridge the gaps that exist between traditionalist and conservative powers.


[1] Fareed Zakaria, The Self-Destruction of America Power, Foreign Affairs, Volume 98 Number 4, July/August 2019 at p 10

[2] Democracy in Retreat, Freedom in the World 2019, Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat

[3] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, History of the Document, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/sections/universal-declaration/history-document/index.html

[4] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 28

[5] Seth D. Kaplan, Human Rights in Thick and Thin Societies: Universality without Uniformity, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2018)

[6] Yascha Mounk & Jordan Kyle, What Populists do to Democracies, The Atlantic, (Dec 26, 2018), https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/hard-data-populism-bolsonaro-trump/578878/

[7] Lauren Sukin, The United States treats migrants worse than Prisoner of Wars, Foreign Policy, (July 26, 2019), 10:45 AM), https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/26/the-united-states-treats-migrants-worse-than-prisoners-of-war/

[8] Philippines ‘War on Drugs’, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/tag/philippines-war-drugs

[9] Brazil: Events of 2018, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/brazil

[10] Umar Juoro, The Rise of Populist Islam in Indonesia, Turkish Policy Quarterly, (Nov. 29, 2019), http://turkishpolicy.com/article/987/the-rise-of-populist-islam-in-indonesia

[11] Roland Hughes, China Uighurs: All you need to know on Muslim ‘crackdown’, BBC, (Nov 8, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-45474279

[12] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art 29.

[13] Thijs van Lindert, The International Human Rights Regime in a Multi Polar World, Humanity in Action Nederland, (Oct. 2016), https://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledge_detail/the-international-human-rights-regime-in-a-multipolar-world/

[14] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, 184 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).

[15] Speech to the Europe-East Asia Economic Forum, Hong Kong, 14 Oct. 1992. 

[16] 560,000 Killed in Syria’s War according to Updated Death Toll, Haaretz, (Dec. 10, 2018, 4:26 PM), https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/560-000-killed-in-syria-s-war-according-to-updated-death-toll-1.6700244

I am a student at National Law University, Jodhpur (India) pursuing specialization in International Trade Law and I have a keen interest in International Relations and Politics.

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The rise & rise of populist demagogues in democratic nations

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The term dictators & demagogues are used interchangeably in various contexts but there’s a difference, the former rules over a totalitarian state where government is able to exercise a complete influence over every aspect of citizen’s life whereas the latter is a “wannabe dictator” but due to the system of checks & balance in place they’re are not fully capable to create police states.

In 21st century these flamboyant  demagogues  have adjusted their personality & politics in such a way  that they successfully hide their intent & action in the shadows of democratic system so unlike Hitler’s Fascist regime or North Korea’s Communist dictatorship, it’s difficult to held them accountable because they’ll try to justify their hasty & unreasonable decision  in the name of Constitution & larger public good.

There are some common qualities shared by populist demagogues in  democratic countries that need to be checked in all seasons to protect the country & its people from potential benevolent dictators.

1.Compromised Constitutional Bodies

The rabble-rousers of the modern era have smartly learnt from their predecessors that to stay in power for eternity, it’s important to curb & limit the functions of Independent Institutions like Courts, Central Bank, Auditory Bodies, Investigation Agencies etc. For instance the President of Turkey Recep Erdogan has almost destroyed judicial independence in the country & with the recent news about the call of his political ally to shut down Turkey’s Constitutional Courts is not just alarming but also a cause of concern in a country where a record number of journalists are serving jail sentences under false charges & this decision if taken will not just compromise the press freedom which is already at its nadir in Turkey but it’ll also weaken the capacity of judicial system to guarantee the protection of people’s rights.

2.Unnecessary Focus on the revival of Glorious Past

Demagogues keep reminding us about the ancient prosperity & always pushing the narrative to portray their   country as the leading force , it can be done via 2 ways, either promote the soft power like culture, tradition, civilization & spirituality or use even nasty tricks to pull out the blinded nationalism that includes portraying one’s country as the leading colonizer, telling people about invaders & portray them as protector of native civilization or use race theory to create a class divide in society like Hitler did by invoking the Aryan identity that made some people into believing that they are superior to others.

By inciting this false hope of regaining the past glory & branding slogans like “Make America Great Again”, “For us, Hungary First”, “Abki bar, Modi Sarkar” they deceit & manipulate people into voting for their parties without doing any substantive work on the ground.

3.No respect for Dissent & Human Rights

Dissent or criticism of the leader & its establishment is part of a healthy Democratic society where people are fundamentally free to express their views regarding the government’s policies. While delivering a lecture on the topic,” The Hues That Make India: From Plurality to Pluralism,” the Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud noted that ” Descent is the safety valve of a democracy”  but sadly the Modern day Niro of India who ironically belongs to the same State where this lecture was being delivered has left no stone unturned to deliberately cut this valve into pieces.

Critics & Human Rights Activists are put behind bars for raising their voice against the atrocities & crime inflicted on tribals, minorities & other vulnerable sections of society. They are mercilessly beaten, tortured, thrashed & maimed in solitary confinements making no exceptions for maintaining basic human decency that is expected from the “World’s Largest Democracy”.

4. Polarisation for winning elections

The gruesome killing of George Floyd by White male police officer sparked a global outrage & protests against the racial inequality & hate crime that is at its highest level in more than a decade. People demanded accountability & change to stop the Institutionalised & Systemic racism against the people of color in the United States. Ex-president Trump instead of calling out & condemning white supremism  (terrorism) has defended & even embraced this far right radical ideology of hate.

As per the report by V-Dem, there’s an upsurge in political polarisation in India since 2014 when BJP seize the power at Centre & this is evident by frequent incidents of mob-lynching, riots & attacks on minorities especially muslims & Dalits in India. This report further states that Freedom of Religion has seen a considerable decline under the current regime. The reason behind these precipitous decline is the rise of Hindutva Politics which was long gone, forgotten & buried in the coffin but the BJP has called out the jinn of hatred to sway elections after elections at the cost of people who want to live a peaceful life in a non-hostile environment.

5.Violate established rules of Political Conduct

Politics was always a dirty business but populist leaders in most democracies have stooped to a new low & ruined it further. They never shy away from using homophobic & sexiest slurs or passing derogatory remarks against their counterparts in other parties.

Take for instance Brazilian President Bolsonaro, a nutcase who revokes popular prejudices in his ugly campaign rhetoric by passing many offensive & utterly distasteful comments against women, gays, environmentalists & minorities.

The rise of retro-macho politics has left no space for political sobriety & if unchecked, the tumor of hypermasculinity will not be just limited to hate speeches & jibes but translate into formidable action against humanity.

That’s how Romanian dictator Ceaușescu turned his political rhetoric into dystopian reality, under his dictatorship, birth control was banned, abortion was outlawed & fetus was declared the “property of society”, so women were tested for pregnancy & monitored to make sure that they give birth, and punished if they failed.

6. Refusal to accept migrants from Impoverished & war-torn countries

This is the hypocrisy of Western States who for decades have waged war, supported regime change, imposed Economic sanctions & trade barriers, sold weapons to militants in Middle-eastern & African countries finally when refugees & immigrants are arriving at the European borders from these destabilized countries where anarchy has bolstered civil war & complete chaos after covering an extremely dangerous route & taking enormous risks such as relying on people-smugglers or using flimsy boats to cross rough seas, they were detained & locked up under inhumane conditions in shipping containers in Hungary at whims & fancies of  Hungarian government headed by ultra-right wing Viktor Orbán but after the European Union Court ruling last year, Hungary has finally shut-down these illegal migrant transit zones situated on its border with Serbia, at the same time tightening rules which will effectively bar future migration prospects in EU member states.

7. Climate Change Deniers

Climate Change is the biggest threat to human existence in the 21st Century. Earth’s Climate is now changing faster than at any point in modern civilization, primarily as the result of human activities. It needs to be understood that Climate Change is not just a science issue but a policy issue as well. In most of the countries where demagogues are in-charge the policy seems to be more destructive, anti-science & discredit the scientific studies that show that effects of Climate Change are horrific & destructive for the Planet.

The environmental policies of Bolsonaro in Brazil have put the Amazon Rainforest on the verge of extinction. Regarded as the “lungs of the Earth”, the Amazon acts as a giant carbon sink & is also responsible for driving rain patterns across South America & Africa. Leaked documents revealed that Bolsonaro has cynical plans for Amazon Rainforest that includes hydroelectric plants, construction of bridges on Amazon river & a proposed highway through the dense forest to integrate Amazon basin with the rest of the National territory.

Under pressure from the Biden Government, Bolsonaro is now promising to make Brazil Carbon neutral by 2050 but his Environmental minister has asserted that his country is ready to cut 40 percent of deforestation in Amazon Forest only if the International Community will provide $1Billion as assistance. Though It is highly unlikely that the Brazilian government will take any steps against the influential farming lobby that played an important role in the victory of Bolsonaro in 2018 & to whom he has promised to dismantle existing environmental protections to make way for agricultural land expansion and intensified production.

The rise of populist leaders in  democratic countries is not sudden, before seizing power they boastfully promise to set their country free from corruption, crime & socio-economic inequality but after winning election they shift their goal post to achieve sinister objectives. Electoral political system in a democracy needs an urgent overhaul to include an educated perspective rather than simply representing the

will of majority which is no less than tyranny & this could only happen if people(voters) are aware about fascism among themselves & what  does it take for a normal country to become a Nazi State that had turned itself on the path of ravage & destruction. The importance of self realisation & tumultuous past is aptly described in a quote by Ernest Hemingway in his classic book, For whom the Bell tolls “But are there not many fascists in your country?’ There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes“.

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OTT broadcast and its censorship: Whether a violation of freedom of speech and expression

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The whole world, owing to coronavirus pandemic, is enveloped in the darkness. It has wreaked havoc on almost all the aspect of human lives. The educational institutions, theaters and cinemas all have been shuttered. Public gatherings, to maintain the social distancing, have been firmly discouraged. Further, the pandemic has significantly modified the media and entertainment consumption patterns. Social lives ventured into digital environment as a result of people being cramped to their homes. People have switched to several sources of entertainment from the comfort of their own homes and over-the-top (“OTT”) platforms have proven to be a major source of entertainment.

OTT platforms have grown exponentially and taken over the industry. OTT platforms expedites streaming of video content over the web. Several OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney Hotstar, Disney+, Apple TV+, Hulu, etc., have primarily ousted the traditional television service. The notification issued by the Central Government of India aimed at getting online media platforms and content on OTT platforms within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has been making the rounds in recent times. The cabinet Secretariat, on November 9, 2020, released a notification amending the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961. It has incorporated two new entries to the second schedule of the Rules namely Films and Audio-visual programmes provided by online service provider as well as News and Current Affairs. This action is attributed to the fact that there is large amount of an unrestricted content available on the web as well as lack of an adequate regulatory regime in place to protect its users.

Universal self-Regulation code

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) had come up with a Universal self-Regulation code (code) to administer the content available on OTT platforms. The code was primarily adopted by the fifteen OTT platforms namely zee 5, Viacom 18, Disney Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, MX Player, Jio Cinema, Eros Now, Alt Balaji, Arre, HoiChoi, Hungama, Shemaroo, Discovery Plus and Flickstree. SonyLIV and Lionsgate too have recently signed the code. It was manifestly stated in the code that The Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) is the main governing framework when it comes to online content. The values enshrined in Article 19 of India’s Constitution, namely the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, direct the internet and material on the internet. A policy for the digital content sector has to be drafted in line with Article 19 of the Indian Constitution i.e. the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression, and any constraints on the aforesaid right should be fall within the purview of constitutional restrictions set forth in Article 19(2) of the India’s Constitution.

Further, the code had delineated a mechanism pertaining to (i) Age Classification (the code had particularized the certain categories for standardized age classification namely All ages, 7+, 13+, 16+ and 18+) (ii) Appropriate content specification ( a content descriptor appropriate to each piece of content that demonstrates and tells the viewer about the essence of the content while also advising on viewer discretion) and (iii) Access control Tools( to regulate access to content, signatories to the Code may implement technological tools and measures for access control i.e. PIN/Password.) The code had also established the perspicuous grievance redressal and escalation process to lodge complaint regarding non-adherence to specified guidelines. The MIB, however, has repudiated the proposed code since it did not explicitly categorize the prohibited content. Further, there is no independent third-party oversight and a transparent code of ethics. The MIB instructed IAMAI to seek guidance from the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) and the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) self-regulatory frameworks.

A public interest litigation was consolidated in October, 2018, before the hon’ble Delhi High court by Justice For Rights Foundation to draught certain guidelines for modulating the content available on OTT platforms. The MIB while filing the counter affidavit stated that digital platforms are not required to procure a license from them to exhibit their content and the same is not controlled by them. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has also mentioned that they do not oversee internet content and there exists no mechanism for monitoring or licensing an agency or establishment that posts content on the internet. Nevertheless, it was claimed that the provisions concerning IT are applicable, and concerned legislative authority having jurisdiction under the aforesaid Act is authorized to take action using the power granted to them under section 69 of the Act which involves directives for interception, surveillance, or data encryption. Further, under Section 67 of the Act there are penalties pertaining to posting or disseminating obscene information in any digital form. Accordingly, the court while dismissing the petition opined that it cannot grant a mandamus for the creation of regulations when the IT Act already contains stringent restrictions and currently the foregoing petition is pending in the hon’ble supreme court.

Positions of the law in regards to film screenings

A film must be certified by the Central Board of Film Certification before it can be displayed or distributed in cinemas or on satellite, and the content is constrained by existing laws. The CBFC was established by the Cinematograph Act of 1952. When it was established, it was designated as the Board of Film Censors. It was amended in 1959 to give it the authority to certify a picture for mass consumption. The Cinematograph Act of 1952, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995, and the Cable Television Networks Rules of 1994 are among the laws that govern the industry. However, there is no such particular legislation for regulating material on OTT platforms. The government by virtue of Article 19(2) of Indian constitution can impose restrictions on freedom of speech and expressions in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, security of state, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, decency or morality and so on. Consequently, broadcasted content has often been a restricted matter. In K.A. Abbas v. Union of India and Another[1], the constitutionality of censorship was initially challenged. The hon’ble supreme court has upheld the constitutionality of censorship under Article 19(2) of the India’s constitution and stated that films must be viewed differently from any kind of art and expressions because a motion picture can elicit more intense emotional response than any other product of Art. However, such censorship should not be exercised to imposed an undue restriction on freedom of speech and expression.

The constitutionality of censorship was also disputed in S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram [2]wherein the hon’ble supreme court has held that the board’s criterion for appraising the films must be that of an ordinary man with common sense and wisdom rather than that of a hypersensitive mind. The Moral values ought not to be compromised in the realm of any social change. The concept of “Dharam” should not be disrupted by the immoral norms or standards. However, it does not suggest that censors must embrace a conservative perspective. They should be resilient to social change and go with the topical environment. The film is the most legitimate and significant medium for addressing topics of public concern. The producer has the right to broadcast his own message, which others may or may not concur with. The state, regardless of how hostile to its policies, cannot suppress open debate and expression. The democracy is basically a government by the people based on open debate. The democratic form of administration necessitates citizens’ active and informed engagement in the societal issue.

Furthermore in, Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. And Anr. V. The Central Board of Certification[3], it was said that we are governed in a democratic manner. We can’t expect everyone’s head and intellect to be the same in a democracy. Freedom to think and act in a different way is at the heart of democracy. The beauty of democracy is the diversity of viewpoints, ideas, and manifestations. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to exhibit themselves in the same way. In the film business, new blood is being infused. This new blood is revved up and eager to get their feet wet in the industry. The film business and the general public have embraced such new blood. Their effort has been recognized and praised by the government. These works are predicated on a certain way of thinking that is unique to them. They have their own opinions and ideas on how the film business should operate, as well as how the medium altogether must be managed. Profanity, obscenity, and depravity do not shock human emotions. Such situations and discussions must be seen in their entirety. The narrative must be perused in its totality and thought upon. It is not appropriate to choose a few phrases, lines, conversations, or situations and venture into the board’s resolution. Certainly, the state, and notably the Central Board of Film Certification, cannot attempt to sculpt and dominate public opinion under the guise of purported public interest or audience preference. That would be terrible, as it would hit at the heart of democracy and civil liberty, which are held in such high regard by everybody. The goals of film certification, consequently, cannot be achieved by disregarding the Constitutionally guaranteed right or by fully undermining and disappointing it. A movie has to be watched on its own and judged accordingly. The plot, subject, background, and location in which it is created, the message it aims to express, and the entertainment, among other things, would all have to be assessed using section 5B’s standards.

Should OTT platforms be governed by a code of self-regulation?

Self-regulation is presently the only option available to such platforms in order to maintain the ability to broadcast material without undue censorship. Because unreasonable restriction would impede the creative flexibility of OTT platforms. It will assist platforms in conducting themselves in an ethical and fair manner while also safeguarding the interests of their users. It would protect content producers’ artistic freedom by promoting creativity and upholding an individual’s right to free speech and expression. The general public desires to view the content in its original and untainted state. They strive to understand artwork in its most primitive sense. The fundamental role of government agency is to maintain the fair field, not to inhibit innovation and ingenuity by placing limitations in a tech industry.

Self-regulators’ competence allows them to adjust their regulations more quickly than government agencies in reaction to technological advancement. More significantly, independent of any technological change, the self-regulator is better equipped to decide when a rule should be modified to improve compliance. Self-regulation has the ability to make compliance more appealing. It develops regulations based on an expert’s level of understanding, customized to the specific sector. These rules are viewed by regulated entities as more “reasonable” from the inception owing to their involvement[4].

Conclusion

The MIB by virtue of the amendment has now can regulate and draught policies regarding digital media and online streaming on OTT platforms. However, such governmental intervention can considerably jeopardize the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. The suppression of freedom of speech and expression is what censorships is all about. The freedom of speech and expression suggests that right to manifest one’s thought via words of mouth, writing, picture and any other means. The freedom of speech is one of the most well-known and fiercely protected civil rights against government encroachment. In modern democratic societies, it is generally considered as an essential notion. Every citizen of a democratic nation has the freedom to express his or her opinions on various issues. Thousands of viewpoints are disseminated around the country via various channels. A film director has the freedom to manifest himself and gives effect to his thoughts, even though others may not concur with him. An exhibition of films as well as documentaries cannot be prohibited for purely speculative reasons since prohibiting motion pictures is tantamount to suppressing the right to freedom of expression and speech. Restrictions upon Individual’s freedom of speech and expression must only be permitted if they are required to avert severe harm from being perpetrated. It is critical to have a healthy and extensive amount of free expression in order to assert a thriving and well- functioning democracy. Democracy, otherwise, is obsolete and akin to a totalitarian dictatorship[5]. It should be up to the public to determine what they want to see and what they don’t want to watch. Thus, the cornerstone to safeguarding artistic freedom is a sustainable self-governance paradigm.


[1] K.A. Abbas v. Union of India and Another (1970) 2 S.C.C. 780

[2] S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989) 2 S.C.C. 574

[3] Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. And Anr. V. The Central Board of Certification 2016 S.C.C. online Bom 3862: (2016) 4 AIR Bom R 593: AIR 2017 (NOC 62) 29

[4] Id. at 13

[5] Subhradipta Sarkar, RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH IN A CENSORED DEMOCRACY, UNIVERSITY OF DENVER SPORTS

 AND ENTERTAINMENT LAW JOURNAL 62, 84 ,89 (2009)

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International Law

What Determines Taliban Government’s Legitimacy?

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With the fall of Kabul, and the evasion of President Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban has taken over the reins of Afghanistan. States like Pakistan and China have already expressed their willingness to “work with the Taliban”  thereby legitimizing the Taliban government, whereas India has refused to recognize this “reign of terror”. The jurisprudential question of legitimacy arises here because the transfer of power in Afghanistan was through a coup d’etat which constitutes an extra-constitutional means of formation of government. Governments desire legitimacy because it gives them the right to rule and an acceptance on the international and domestic levels.

The most accepted theory in this regard is Hans Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law. Kelsen, a positivist, claimed that law was contaminated by sociological impurities and morality, and focussed his theory on law alone. He based the legitimacy of the new order of government on its efficacy, and a rule was said to be efficacious when individuals regulated by it “behave, by and large, in conformity” with it. When the new order was efficacious, the coup was said to be successful, and the new government was held to be a legitimate one. Kelsen’s theory was widely accepted to uphold governments after coups such as in The State v. Dosso (Pakistan; 1958), Madzimbamuto v. Lardner-Burke (Southern Rhodesia; 1968), and Uganda v. Commissioner of Prisons (Uganda; 1966), among others. Since Kelsen tries to purify laws from the socio-political aspects, he contends that that it is irrelevant why people comply with the law and it could even be out of pure fear. Thus, a rogue government such as the Taliban which is efficacious as it receives compliance out of coercion and not out of consent, would be a legitimate one from a Kelsenian perspective.

The primary criticism that arises to Kelsen’s separability thesis is that he fails to distinguish between validity of law and its legitimacy. Critics have argued that while validity of law concerns with its authoritativeness, legitimacy depends on the virtue of justness and is contingent upon socio-political and moral factors. The issue lies with attaching legitimacy to the performance of the government. Instead, legitimacy should involve the questions of whether the government has the ability to demand the obligations out of voluntary conviction, provide for public goods such as the rule of law, protection of fundamental rights, etc., and function in a manner such that the society is generally benefitted. A study on legitimacy in seventy-two countries concludes that more the citizens are treated as rightful holders of political power, more legitimacy the government derives. This means that the virtue of legitimacy must flow from the citizens and the society and not from a coercive power that the top-down approach provides.

In the light of this, when the Taliban government is examined, it is realised that with its extremist ideology and terror activities in the past, it can hardly fulfil this criteria.While the ‘good Taliban’ has claimed that it will protect the freedom of press and not discriminate against women while allowing for their participation in the society within framework of Islamic law, these assurances will pacify only those who are unfamiliar with its history. Under the rule of Taliban in the years between 1996 and 2001, human rights were suspended, and political killings, rape, torture, amputation, and public executions were common place. A Taliban 2.0 which has emerged victorious against one of the major superpowers of the world, and has external support is unlikely to reform. Ideologically, they still remain the same movement committed to a puritan interpretation of Islam and this is evidenced by the fact that the barbaric Sharia law is in place once again. These baseless claims should be perceived as a political strategy to appease states into granting them de jure legitimacy because despite the jurisprudence of legitimacy developed, there is nothing in the international law that bars states like China, Russia, Pakistan or others from recognizing the rogue state of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Therefore, the future of the Taliban and Afghanistan rests in the interplay of international actors.

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